Once upon a time, there was a small girl who loved animals and stories and riding her bike and dressing up and playing dolls with her sisters.
Then a man used her for his own sexual gratification. He told himself that he wasn’t doing her any harm. Sex is natural, after all, he thought. He was just playing around; it was a game.
The girl did not understand what was happening, but she knew she didn’t like the game. It felt very wrong, even though the man told her she was a good girl. She didn’t feel like a good girl, however; she felt dirty and bad. She tried to avoid the game as much as possible.
She knew it was supposed to be a secret, and she was afraid her mama wouldn’t love her anymore if she found out, so she didn’t tell. She simply tried not to think about it. And after a while, she forgot about it.
She forgot for a long time, but the feeling of being bad and wrong and possibly unlovable stuck with her. She didn’t know why she felt that way; she just did. After many years, at a time when she was a young woman in crisis, she remembered again. The memory appeared so suddenly out of nowhere that she thought it might have been a bad dream. Or perhaps she made it up. She was afraid she had made it up and was blaming the man for something he never did. That would be a terrible thing. Only a horrible, disgusting person would make up things like that. She hated herself for even thinking such a thing was true.
No matter what anyone said, she knew she was dirty, disgusting, and bad. Believing this sucked the life energy out of her. She became tired and depressed; she withdrew from life. She allowed other men to abuse her; it felt almost normal. She was ashamed of it, but in some ways, the abuse was what made her feel alive.
ONE POSSIBLE ENDING
Although the woman had many opportunities in her life–a good education and eventually a partner who genuinely loved her, she could not let go of the sense that she was fundamentally flawed in an irreparable way. She carried on, ever more depressed, harming herself and turning away from the people who wanted to help her heal. She didn’t deserve healing, after all. In time, the colors and flavors of life receded from her. She couldn’t see any reason to keep going, and so one day, she didn’t.
ANOTHER POSSIBLE ENDING
The woman learned that her story wasn’t an uncommon one. She discovered that other women (and some men) who were smart, caring, completely lovable individuals, had experienced similar things. It was clear to her that they were not disgusting or dirty or bad or unlovable. It dawned on her that perhaps she wasn’t either.
She decided she wanted to give up believing in her own worthlessness. She thought that just deciding would make everything better, but she soon found out that it was much more complicated than that. She had to keep on deciding, day in and day out, when she was discouraged and when she had flashbacks and when she was stressed out and when someone was mean to her–on all of those days, she had to keep making the decision to love herself. Some days it seemed impossible. Some days she couldn’t see the point. Finally, she told herself to stop asking the question, “am I worth all this hard work?” She told herself that even on days she didn’t believe she was worth it, she would still act as though she believed.
She didn’t live happily ever after. But she lived, and some days were happy.